1984 is now
I could never expect to read an anti-utopia not as a grim overview of the future but as an outline of today’s world.
I was reading this to reflect on the current events in Russia and thinking why so many people fell victim to relatively unsophisticated propaganda and became their supporters and apologists.
My biggest takeaway is how amazingly adaptive the human mind is. People can go to great lengths to deny the most apparent facts to protect their safety and comfort.
While the standard environment stimulates agility of mind and memory that analyzes and interprets the facts, it’s possible to create conditions where the opposite can become the key to survival. A reflective person becomes a primary target for elimination, and people silently accepting the ruling ideology have higher chances of surviving and getting promoted. As an ordinary person (and who says I’m not), if I need to believe in the most blatant lie to survive, I will wholeheartedly do so.
Parallels with Russian society lie on the surface. What Orwell explores in his thought experiment in a book, journalist Shura Burtin investigates in his journalist research, Feeling around for something human. Why do Russians support the war against Ukraine?.
The following can very well be a quote from 1984, but that’s an excerpt from the field research of Butin.
People recited the propaganda spiels from state television verbatim, and then explained that they were only expressing their purely subjective opinions. Like the majority of the people we talked to, [our interviewees] were against war in general, but very much in favor of this particular war, and didn’t see any contradiction in this.
The soft version of this is ignoring the uncomfortable truth. “Staying out of politics” was a social contract for the Russian middle class, a de-facto version of crimestop. Per Orwell, crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.
Another article from Meduza, ‘Toxic assets’ How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine tore Yandex apart outlines staff of the most advanced and successful Russian IT company have been practicing crimestop for years.
Yandex.News is a Yandex service known and criticized for years for supporting propaganda. The research reveals how generally, anti-Putin, and pro-liberal engineers and managers of Yandex failed to see the beam in their eyes.
“I didn’t go onto the Yandex homepage. It’s far enough removed from me that I preferred not to pay any attention to it. I just accepted that Yandex.News effectively didn’t exist for me anymore, that it wasn’t a reflection of anything, and I let it go”
Those are just two examples. One can draw multiple analogies with the current world, not just modern Russia.